Home Schooling: The Nuts & Bolts

Save St Bees QuoteIntroduction and update

This post is primarily written with the parents of children at St Bees school, Cumbria in mind though it should also be useful to any British parent who is considering whether or not to do home schooling themselves. For the rest of you (especially anyone new to this blog) I’ll give a brief update of the situation and the future of St Bees School.

The Governors of St Bees School announced in February of this year that the school was failing financially and they had to close it at the end of this academic year. A huge outcry ensued, a huge rescue package put together but the Governors were adamant they had looked into every possibility and refused to change their decision. In fact they rejected three rescue offers – one of which was with potential investors ready to invest millions of pounds into the school. They didn’t even get a reply to their initial approach. Since then, our campaign team has worked tirelessly to bring the current board of governance to an end and continue education at the school.

We believe the first goal is almost there though, through subterfuge and bullying, the Governors have clung on to the bitter end determined to see the doors close before they leave. They did try to appease ‘the masses’ by suddenly announcing they had actually found a way to ‘save the school’ and reopen it with a vague promise of September 2016. This, of course, means they made everyone angry all over again for the rescue package could have kept the school afloat until they changed the business model (which everyone agrees is vital) and began the school in a new form. Effectively they’ve gone from closing the school to evicting all the children and staff. All done in the ‘best interests’ of the children. It’s amazing what atrocities can be carried out under our noses when said to be done in ‘best interests’. Furthermore, we have it on good authority (and I mean really good authority) that it is extremely unlikely the school could open next year at all. It is much more likely to be September 2017.

So for a handful of us, unhappy with the choice (or lack of it) for schools which can provide a place for our children, home schooling is a definite contender and one which is beginning to create some excitement among those who have fought to save the school and also with some of those who are still involved with managing it. It is even possible that a home schooling community may be the basis for something bigger still but at the moment I can’t reveal any more details. There are plans afoot though. I will say this though, on top of the amazing story of the school which was saved nine days before it was to end and reopened with just 32 children we have also now found another school which also faced closure, was saved and open with less than 10 children! That school is now thriving with hundreds of children. It ain’t over ’til it’s over, baby…

Anyway, after this catch-up, time to give a concise ‘how to do home school’ for all those interested in this option.

Home School – what you need to know

Here in a nutshell is the information I’ve gathered from parents already home schooling their children, from internet sources and from talking to our LEA home school contact.

1) You need an adult present to supervise your children.

This is mostly likely to be the parent but it doesn’t have to be. Grandparents or other close family member would be fine. Obviously, if you don’t have family on hand and both parents are working then home school is not for you. Otherwise, you don’t need to be a teacher, highly educated or anything like that. You role will be to help keep your child on track rather than trying to teach them.

2) You need a computer and internet.

While many of the courses I’ll detail below are book and paper-based, the mentoring help that comes with them needs the internet and, to be honest, you really want to have you child working from the internet to supplement work if nothing else. This isn’t the same as letting them hide away in their bedrooms with a laptop and having no control over what they’re doing on the internet. You will be keeping an eye on them as they work and probably have a work space area in the home to use for study (it could be as simple as one end of the kitchen table!).

3) You need to agree a timetable which will work for you

From parents I’ve spoken to you can pack a full day of learning in a school environment into just a couple of hours with home schooling. I asked if that meant our children will be twiddling their thumbs getting bored for the remaining hours of the day but parents told me ‘not at all’.

Instead, your children have the chance, finally, to learn at their own speed and as that is likely to be much faster than at school they can go on to extension work or even learn extra subjects. I was told of children learning Japanese through Rosetta Stone which they could never do in traditional schools. Another child was interested in film-making and is studying that.

What’s important then is how you agree to work the day with your child. The younger they are the more ‘hands on’ you need to be but children over the age of 11 through to the teens (this is the age of St Bees School children and so I’m concentrating on this age range) can work very independently. So one parent has their teenager study from say 10-12 am then after lunch from 2-4 pm. They do reading in between and around those times and take breaks as often as they wish.

This gives loads of room for other projects such as music practice, creative writing and visits to places. The teenager I mentioned who is interested in film-making is doing work experience with a company which makes films and can take out this time because studies are well ahead. It also means that your child learns to work independently – something vital at A Level stage and much prized at University. Indeed, home schooled degree applicants are seen as real assets to universities and are eagerly sought after.

4) Socialisation

One big worry for parents thinking of home schooling is what about socialisation? Won’t their kids go stir-crazy on their own at home?

Everyone I spoke to tells me socialisation is better with home schooling. With support groups such as Education Otherwise you can find lots of other home schoolers with whom you can meet up, share resources, do activities together and so on. Your children won’t have homework in the evenings because all study can be done during the day so seeing friends when they come back from school is easier. They can get involved with youth groups or you can team up with other parents home schooling children of the same kind of age and hang out together.

It’s up to individuals to work out how it will work best but generally home school environments prevent bullying, feeling unsafe in an environment and other issues many kids feel at school. Instead they can interact with adults, experience real life environments through work experience and enjoy time with friends in an entirely wholesome and positive way.

For those of us from St Bees School considering home schooling, we have lots of teachers in the area who have signed up to help with tutoring the children. This means we will have group teaching sessions several times a week. The LEA allows us up to 15 hours each week where we can have group lessons – more than enough time for friends to enjoy studying together and chill out before and after!

5) Decide on your course of study

For me, this has been the most exciting discovery. There are a plethora of options for course materials to use in home schooling. Some are free, others cost, but all lead up to qualifications which are accepted by British educational institutions such as A Level Centres, colleges and universities. But there is no requirement for you to follow any course at all. You merely need to make sure the LEA knows that you are home schooling and what you are intending to do to provide education for your child and all should be well – at least in Cumbria!

The first resource which must be recommended is the Khan Academy. This is a world famous initiative which is changing how teachers think about teaching in the classroom. Many schools in America now teach using the Khan Academy. This is entirely free to sign up for and is a complete online course for hundreds of subjects. Especially strong in maths and science, your children will love watching the informative videos which are complete lessons in themselves. Check out this ten-minute video about ions to see what I mean:

Some parents who are of the Christian faith use an American teaching system which has been adapted for European use and results in a qualification (ICCE) recognised and accepted by LEAs and universities. This costs about £300 per child per year which is very little indeed. One child just recently was accepted into Oxford University with the ICCE qualification which is very similar to the Baccalaureate qualifications now popular in the UK.

Those wishing to continue with the traditional Key Stage 3 and GCSE curriculum will find plenty of courses on offer – some better than others – but they do cost and you will have to pay for the exams.

The best is probably Oxford Home Schooling which provides full course materials, marked assignments and tutors available via email and phone for any learning needs. You are also provided with a list of Examination Centres which you can contact to book your child in for exams at the right time. GCSEs cost about £350 each but the price goes down the more you buy in one go. The cost is spread out over nine payments.

Examtuition.com offer cheaper GCSEs but only do four subjects and Little Arthur Independent School  offer all the GCSE subjects at £215 and KS3 at £145 each but the website doesn’t look brilliant so I personally would go with Oxford. I spoke to someone at Oxford and found them very helpful and knowledgeable.

6) Tell the LEA

Once you’ve decided on how you’ll organise your child’s working time, socialization and what course material they’ll study and you’ve decided you are definitely going for home schooling, the final stage is to contact your LEA Home school coordinator and have them send you the form you need to complete. With this form you are simply de-registering your child from school and informing the LEA of how you intend to provide alternative education for them. My understanding from those who have done it is that checks on you are not really intrusive – you don’t have to let them come to your home to check on you and you can send a report on the education you’ve given once a year and this should be sufficient. Again, that’s in this part of Cumbria. Other places may well be different. You can make this decision to home school right at the last minute should you wish and withdraw your child from state eduction at any point.

7) For St Bees School parents

I am helping to coordinate those of us who want to home school to make sure all children continue to have an excellent education – especially those partway through their GCSEs. I have at least one local school who have agreed in principle to accept our students as external candidates for exams and several former teachers at the school and other retired and former teachers who have offered to do group teaching, one-to-one tutoring and mentoring. If your child is currently doing Key Stage 3 or about to start GCSEs and you would like to home school them please get in touch with us. We will do our best to make sure you’re fully supported.

Contact Hazel Barker to leave your details with her and we’ll be in touch:

waab@talktalk.net

Mob 0793 637 3345

About D K Powell

British freelance journalist, author, writer, editor, musician, educational consultant. I lived with Wifey, Thing I (daughter) & Thing II (son) in Bangladesh for 5-6 years working for an NGO called LAMB. Wifey led the Hospital Rehab department and I used to teach O levels at the school before going full-time as a freelance writer in 2013. Now we're back in the UK learning how to be British again. When not writing or editing, I'm busy trying to complete a Masters degree in Intercultural relations in Asian Contexts and reading way too many books at once. I also drink tea - lots of it.
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